By Published On: February 10, 2014

By Gary McVey

Our January blog post focused on how online learning programs greatly expand a university’s recruitment footprint, and how this impacts college marketers. Now let’s move into tactics for effectively marketing online programs. Since all of our options won’t fit in one blog post, let’s focus on three critically important tactics for marketing online programs.

1. Content Marketing

Content marketing involves the creation and sharing of web-based content and media to attract, engage and acquire customers. The content can be presented in many formats, including news articles, photos, video, e-publications, blogs and others. Rather than focusing on selling, content marketing communicates timely information to prospects in ways that consistently build awareness, engagement and, ultimately, loyalty.

Let’s say your university is launching a new online bachelor’s degree in Business Administration. You want to show students that you understand what’s going on in business, so they can picture the degree preparing them for the real world. Your content marketing could include: a blog on your website where business professionals and professors take turns addressing the latest business trends; a Q and A session with the dean about how the degree program keeps up with new demands affecting business leaders; and a video interview of two corporate leaders serving as program advisors discussing how the degree helps launch successful careers. You could also post photos and testimonials from students who have already enrolled in the program’s first class.

2. Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Research and past experience tell us that a large share of your online learning prospects will find you through an online search. We’re well past the days when optimizing your web site with a few meta-tags will be effective. With Google, Yahoo and other search engines frequently changing their protocols, you need highly skilled SEO expertise. Most colleges simply don’t have the in-house SEO talent needed for success in today’s rapidly changing digital landscape. If they do, that individual is often overwhelmed with other IT projects. This is an area where it pays to retain outside expertise. Effective SEO helps ensure your prospects will find your newly enhanced content.

3. Search Engine Marketing (Paid Search/Pay-per-Click)

Search engine marketing, including Google Ad Words and other pay-per-click advertising options, is one of the best and most cost-effective ways for reaching prospective online students. Unlike traditional marketing, pay-per-click advertising allows you to easily test different keywords, and to evaluate which messages are most effective. And because you can set a budget cap, and only pay when a prospect clicks your ad, it’s easy to control costs.

By using geo-targeting in your paid search campaign, you’ll ensure you’re reaching your best prospects. Keep in mind, paid search is an evolving tool that is all about flux; it requires frequent evaluation, testing and updating. As with organic search, it pays to use a Google-certified, outside expert that can launch and manage a campaign to your needs and budget.   Media costs are typically pass-through, so any consultant fees typically cover set-up and ongoing management (including weekly or bi-monthly reports).

Once you’ve driven prospects to your site, be sure you have quality, relevant content to engage them, and an easy way to request their e-mail address, so you can begin permission-based marketing.

What tactics have been the most effective for marketing your online or hybrid programs? We’ll appreciate your input.

-Gary McVey is a guest blogger for d.trio. He is president of McVey Marketing Inc., a marketing, research and brand consulting firm based in the Minneapolis area. He has worked with more than a dozen colleges and universities, and previously served as chief marketing officer at Hamline University in St. Paul and for the Minnesota Private College Council, a 17-college consortium.

Additional Resources:
“Mature Market for Online Education”
 “Tips for Marketing Your Online Education Program on a Budget”

About the Author: cat-tonic

Born of curiosity and enthusiasm, we’re a scrappy group of smart, passionate marketers who work hard and play hard. We show up every day and fight for our clients who are making the world a better place. We listen with curiosity, explore deeply, ask hard questions, and sometimes put forth ideas that might make you squirm. Because we believe the status quo is good for growing mold but not much else. The way we see it, change is the way forward and the magic happens when curiosity, math, science, instinct, and talent intersect.
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